A charming renovation of fairytale lore, Big Bad Wolf is about the unexpected sensitive side of the original bad guy
In the somewhat askew fairy-tale world of Matthew Whittet's Big Bad Wolf, the job of playing the Big Bad Wolf has been franchised out in order to meet increased demand. Instead of just one wolf, now every village in the kingdom has its own lupine menace to scare the locals.
But just like every franchise, the quality of service is not always uniform.
Meet Wolfy. Wolfy doesn't really get it. He prefers writing poetry to terrorising villagers. He's even a vegetarian. And he's also very lonely. It ain't easy bein' mean.
Enter Heidi Hood (a distant relative of Red Riding) who takes pity on Wolfy, and the two strike up an unlikely friendship.
"It's about this bond between two people who are able to look past the superficial image of the other person," says Whittet. "He's a wolf who is struggling to find his place in the world because most people don't really look at him, they just get scared and run."
The play is written for 5 to 8 year olds, an age group where friendships have an emphatic significance.
"I know from my own son, who is seven, friendship at that age is really life and death," explains Whittet. "Who is my best friend today? If I don't know who my best friend is, my life will fall apart. It breaks your heart, but they're at that age where, you know, it's okay, because it'll all have changed by next week."
This is not a provocative deconstruction of the Red Riding Hood story, and has few intimations of the dark symbolism that lies beneath the fairytale, the shadows which so fascinate artists and psychoanalysts.
"We've turned it about and sat it on its head, making it a modern story about how he is actually just this really misunderstood, lovely creature," says Whittet.
This is a family show aimed directly at youngsters, although it breaks with the fairytale tradition in some interesting ways. Even the show's emphasis on friendship is somewhat rare in the fairytale tradition.
"But with theatre, I reckon if the energy is right, and you're watching a show where people grow, anyone can appreciate it," says Whittet.
And with an intricate set full of surprises by Jonathon Oxlade – who also designed Pinocchio in 2012 – there is more than enough visual warmth and playful beauty here for adults to admire.
Emma Hawkins, who plays Heidi, is a short-statured performer, and the set is built to her size, a fascinating world of its own.
"It's the sort of set where you see it and you just want to get inside of it," says Whittet, "We occasionally have to keep the kids from running down and climbing in."
And that temptation to climb into another world is just how a fairytale should be.
Directed by Rosemary Myers, Big Bad Wolf opens Saturday 11 January 2014 in the Southbank Theatre's Lawler Studio.